When Ke'Arre Stewart went to war, he told his mother it was so he could die doing something.
"I would rather go die doing something with my life than die doing nothing," Sharon Lloyd recalled Stewart saying.
Ultimately, it wasn't the tour in Iraq that killed the former solider, but a gunman outside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. Just before noon on Nov. 27 Stewart was gunned down while he was standing outside the clinic using his phone, family members said Thursday.
The 29-year-old father of two was remembered as a hero on Thursday during a several-hours long visitation that brought lawyers, police officers, veterans, friends and former coworkers to the Angelus Chapel, 1104 S. Circle Drive, to pay their respects. Stewart laid peacefully, wearing a cap, in a flag-draped casket beneath a video montage of him with his daughters, ages seven and 11. While friends and family wept and prayed over his body, photos of Stewart's life showed him cuddling with his girls, kissing them and watching them open presents. In many photos he flashed a broad smile. Many mourners were still in shock over his sudden death.
"When I first got the call, I was in denial. I didn't want to believe it," said Stewart's brother Leyonte Chandler, who drove from hospital to hospital trying to find his brother.
Toward the end of the visitation, Chandler could no longer contain his grief and for a time his sobs were the only sounds filling the small chapel.
Stewart's wife, Ashley Stewart who lives in Texas, said she keeps thinking the situation is a dream.
"I keep telling myself to wake up," she said.
Lloyd said in one of the last phone calls she had with her son that Stewart wanted her to visit and cook him beans and hot cornbread. She wants to tell him that she'll have a bowl waiting for him.
The death has left his family shaken and determined to dedicate their lives to changing gun laws in the United States.
"People have the right to bear arms," Chandler said. "But they are abusing that right."
Stewart was one of three people killed in the Nov. 27 rampage, which left 12 people wounded, nine of them with gun shots. Also killed were Jennifer Markovsky and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Officer Garrett Swasey, both of whom left behind families with young children.
Friends, family and coworkers all remembered Stewart as a kind and giving man who always put others before himself and who always had a smile.
Many who hadn't known Stewart streamed into the chapel to grieve for a man whose death impacted the community. Police officers from UCCS and Colorado Springs came by. One woman, who refused to give her name, stopped by and said she was a frequent client at Planned Parenthood for medical checkups and was terrified by the shooting. She planned to attend Swasey and Markovsky's funerals as well. Another visitor on Thursday was 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May, whose office will prosecute the case of suspected gunman Robert Lewis Dear Jr..
Bob Lopez, an Army veteran from Wheat Ridge, arrived at the visitation with 400 "Support Our Troops" ribbons. He handed out the red, white and blue ribbons to other visitors, many of whom pinned ribbon on their clothes. The ribbons were placed in a clear bowl near the entrance of the chapel, with the rest to be shipped to Stewart's birthplace of Waco, Texas, where he will be buried,
Brown came with a bouquet of flowers, and left remembering a good coworker who always helped lighten the mood.
"I guess it's just hitting me now," she said. "I just want to remember him and who he was, always smiling."